What exactly are cheetos? Officially, they’re categorized as a chip, but this definition has never struck me as exactly correct. They’re not chip-shaped, for one thing, and their unusual, thicker texture is distinctly un-chip-like. We know they’re dangerously cheesy, to be sure, but beyond that, what are Cheetos? How are they made? Let’s get to the bottom of the bag of these deliciously unclassifiable snacks.
First, let’s take a look at the ingredients list in a bag of the classic, crunchy version of Cheetos. They contain “Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola, and/or Sunflower Oil), Cheese Seasoning (Whey, Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Canola Oil, Maltodextrin [Made from Corn], Natural and Artificial Flavors, Salt, Whey Protein Concentrate, Monosodium Glutamate, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Artificial Color [Yellow 6]), and Salt.” That’s all well and good, but if you try just throwing all these things in a mixing bowl, you’re probably not going to get the tasty treat you’re looking for.
So, how are crunchy Cheetos made? According to a video released by the fine folks at Food Network, “Cornmeal mixes with water, creating a batter. The batter moves through a machine called an extruder. A ‘colette’ is the technical term for an uncooked Cheeto. The colettes ride a conveyer to a fryer where they are cooked to more than 300 degrees.” But of course, we can’t forget about the cheese—aged cheddar to be exact—which “is mixed with oil and some other seasonings and then applied to the Cheetos.”
But what about Cheetos Puffs? How are Cheetos Puffs made? The process is the same, except this version of Cheeto is baked instead of fried. How are Hot Cheetos made? It’s identical to the regular crunchy Cheetos, except that the cheese flavoring includes cayenne and chili powder as well for that added heat.
Now that you know the official process, you might be wondering if you can make an approximation of Cheetos in your own home kitchen. The answer, of course, is yes! There are numerous recipes online, including this one from Serious Eats that includes butter, salt, garlic powder, flour, cornmeal, and Monterey Jack for the curls, and cheddar cheese powder, buttermilk powder and cornstarch for the cheese coating. Be cautioned, however, that the author notes, “The texture was a little off; these cheese puffs were more like shortbread logs than Cheetos.” To be honest, cheesy shortbread logs sounds pretty good to me, but not quite the Cheeto experience you might be seeking.
Speaking of recipes, did you know that the Cheetos website actually has a section for recipes featuring their signature snack? I sure didn’t until I started writing this article. There are a number of interesting options, including Mac ‘n Cheetos and Purrfectly Fried Green Tomatoes, but by far the most interesting/weird one is their Flaim’ Hot Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies. If anyone ever gets the courage to make these, please let me know how they turn out.
In the meantime, now that you know how the cheese puffs get made, you can enjoy them all the more. Happy snacking!